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Grad students study historic North Dakota homestead

NDSU students conduct research that has real-world implications.

A great example is a recent field study by NDSU students at the Leingang-Renner homestead located near St. Anthony, North Dakota. The deteriorating stone house is the childhood home of Fern Renner-Welk, wife of famous bandleader Lawrence Welk.

During the September visit, nine architecture students applied what they learned in a graduate level architecture course. They investigated and documented the structure, with the goal to create architectural drawings that comply with the standards of the National Parks Service’s Historic American Building Survey.

The work is in conjunction with a Historic American Building survey seminar and a national competition where points are awarded for buildings of national significance.

The students were divided into three-member teams – two students to take measurements and the third to create drawings with those measurements. 

The house was built in 1894, primarily of sandstone with puddled clay as mortar. The five-room main floor is approximately 1,100 square feet, and it has a 120-square-foot root cellar. The exterior walls are plastered and whitewashed with blue trim.

“This experience challenged the students to reverse their typical train of thought. The students needed to think less like an architect and more like an archeologist by examining existing built conditions and working backward,” said Heather Fischer, lecturer of architecture and environmental design coordinator. “By understanding the building traditions of the Germans from Russia, it allowed students to analyze the building methodology through a focused lens and from that, students were able to create measured drawings.”

For students, it was a hands-on way to hone their skills.

“We learned the official way to retrieve and document data needed to produce concise architectural drawings,” saidNicholas Holzer, who is an architecture graduate student fromBismarck, North Dakota. “As we created drawings, we followed strict historic guidelines. It was a fun, but different, challenge. Also, it was exciting to see up close the methods of construction they used many years ago.”

Fifth-year graduate student Haley Heintzman from Fargo was in charge of writing the history of the structure, and she interviewed 96-year-old Lawrence Renner to take notes about his childhood memories of the farmstead.

“It was really fun to hear his stories about his parents, grandparents and numerous aunts and uncles who grew up in the house that we are documenting,” Heintzman said. “It was an eye-opening experience learning about how different things were back then and how far we have come in the last 100 years. After doing the interview, I have a very special connection and relationship with Lawrence and the whole Renner family.”

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North Dakota State University
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